Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Newcastle University Bespoke Expedition

Three weeks ago 19 engineering students from Newcastle University touched down in Kota Kinabalu.  Their  aim was to get some practical experience of engineering in the field by constructing two gravity water feed systems.  The task was daunting, just 12 days to design and build one brand new system from scratch and to re-engineer another old failing system.  Before they could get stuck into the projects, they needed to do some soft and hard skills training so together we all travelled to Base Camp where we spent 3 very intense days learning radio protocols, getting some first aid training, learning about the Sabahan culture, having health and safety briefings and adjusting to the environment out here.  Some enjoyed their nights sleep in a hammock more than others!

Meet the team- 19 students, 1 lecturer, 2 support staff from the university, 2 Raleigh medics, 2 Project Managers from Raleigh Head Office and 2 Sabahan translators.

Having been divided into 2 groups-Charlie 1 and Charlie 2, we packed up our personal kit, food rations that were to last for the next 2 weeks and equipment needed for camp and the projects and boarded the bus...

We were heading for Kampung Sanparita, a remote village situated about 1.5 hours from Kota Marudu- the nearest large town.  This kampung was home to around 500 people, although some of them were away working or at a live-in school.  While some of the community had access to a gravity water feed system, the houses on the outskirts were having to collect rain water or get their water from the river.  We wanted to improve this by constructing 2 gravity water feed systems at either end of the village, providing access to a safe and reliable drinking source for everyone.

Charlie 1: Ian, Ben, Matt, Dave V, Carl, Craig, Fiona, Charlotte, Sophie, Beth and James joined by support staff Helen and Denise along with medic Izzy and project manager Adam.

Charlie 1 began by surveying the village and scouting out a water source that could be diverted to supply water to the community.  It was decided that this would be a stream flowing high above the village approximately 3kms away.  The team set about transporting materials to this site- sand, gravel and cement before starting work on the construction of the dam.  This intense physical work took 5 days, a lot of sweat went into it, but finally the team had a functioning dam.  The next step was to lay the piping, about 3.5kms in total which would distribute the water to 21 houses.

Finally, they constructed a concrete platform to house two 400 gallon water storage tanks, before connecting the whole system up. This would ensure that the beneficiaries had a reliable water source all year round, providing a water reserve for use in the dry season.



Then it was time for the moment of truth, the big switch on. The team gathered at the final tap in the system, knowing that if the water reached this tap then the entire system would be working.  And...it worked. A moment of intense relief and satisfaction for all.


Meanwhile on the other side of the village, Charlie 2 were hard at work...

Charlie 2 had a different task on their hands, they needed to re-engineer an existing gravity water feed system as the current system was very old and had many burst pipes so was therefore failing to supply the community with an adequate water supply.  The existing dam was functioning well but was situated so high above the village (250m) that the water pressure was putting immense strain on the system, causing pipes to burst.  The challenge for the team was to re-design and extend the system, somehow relieving this pressure and ensuring good water supply.


Charlie 2: Jonny, Sam, Alex, Jamie, Dave B, Alyx, Tom and Josh were joined by Dr Jean Hall, medic Claire and Project Manager Hayley.
The first few days were spent battling with extremely steep terrain and intense heat as the group needed to transport materials to the project site. 


They decided that in order to control the pressure within the system, some pressure break tanks were necessary.  These would store 800 gallons of water, breaking the flow of water between the dam and taps, relieving the pressure on the pipes and therefore reducing the risk of the pipes bursting.  To do this they set about constructing a concrete platform to house the tanks at 100m above the village.  They connected up these tanks, including an overflow system and then piped the water from here directly to the houses.


When it came time to test the system, the team's engineering knowledge was really put to the test as they had to overcome issues of air locks, pipe blockages and distribution of pipe.  However, Charlie 2 rose to the challenge.  In total 28 taps were installed over an area of 2kms supplying approximately 170 benificiaries with a clean reliable water source.


After 12 hard days of work, both groups celebrated their immense achievements with an opening ceremony that was attended by the entire village.  There were speeches, music, food and dancing.  A day to remember.


We ended our trip back together in Kota Kinabalu where we enjoyed some local culinary delights at the Phillipino market.


A job well done.  Congratulations Newcastle University, you should be very proud of yourselves.

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